If there is one instrument that is immediately identifiable with country music, it’s the pedal steel guitar. And just like an endangered species ripe for protection, preserving the pedal steel should be an imperative of society with the way its dialect of wails and moans mimic the tug and pull of human emotion like no other instrument, while evoking those emotions from the audience as well.
But the steel guitar is also an incredibly versatile instrument—versatile as it is complicated. That is why pedal steel players are like the mad scientists of music. That was on display during the kickoff party for the newly-formed Steel Guitar Arts Council that occurred Wednesday night (11-30) at the Nelson Drum Shop in East Nashville, and streamed on Volume.com.
The Steel Guitar Arts Council is an initiative founded by steel guitar legend Russ Pahl, ambient steel guitarist Luke Schneider, and prolific steel guitarist Whit Wright.
Wright says the purpose of the Arts Council is “to foster and promote the growth of steel guitarists who are willing to bend and break the rules to express themselves. Our goal is to be a vehicle for this movement of steel players. We want to do it in a way that includes steel players of all generations. It is not lost on us that the classic ways of playing pedal steel are special and should be revered. In creating new things, we often look to the past for inspiration. We all have a common interest, a reverence for the steel guitar.”
Specifically, The Steel Guitar Arts Council is looking to curate shows every couple of months to showcase innovative steel guitar players. The kickoff party commenced with ambient steel guitarist Luke Schneider showcasing the very farthest reaches of the instrument in music more indicative of New Age than country. Schneider released an album called Altar of Harmony through Third Man Records in 2020.
Next up was Justin Schipper, who played sublime renditions of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Silent Night” with steel guitar in the lead. Then Whit Wright got up with his band Whitten for an extended set. Whitten released numerous singles in 2020.
The event was hosted by Russ Pahl, who also played a set of what he self-described as “steel guitar oddities,” which started off with him using a microphone to play/sing the song “End of the World” made popular by Skeeter Davis. He then played numerous other songs with his “trio” (an MP3 player), before inviting country/Americana singer and songwriter Logan Ledger up. The two worked together on Ledger’s self-titled 2020 album. “He’s one of the finest voices of his generation,” Pahl said about Ledger.
In attendance were also numerous steel guitar luminaries, most notably Lloyd Green, who is one of the most revered and prolific steel guitar players in country music history. The showcase ended with all four featured steel players from the night playing The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” as Logan Ledger sang.
It was patently obvious from the first showcase of the The Steel Guitar Arts Council that their approach to saving the instrument isn’t through static preservation, but innovation in a way that will keep the steel guitar relevant and appealing to a wide range of audiences well into the future.